Shawn Carter – the MC, entrepreneur, and recent best-selling author who is known to everyone but his mother as Jay-Z – proved with the 2010 publication of his memoir Decoded that he is not only one of hip-hop’s top artists, but also one of its top interpreters.
In Decoded, Jay-Z offers little in the way of new personal details. He’s been telling that story in his raps for twenty years now – from his fatherless childhood in the projects, to his years dealing crack cocaine, to his stardom, and finally to his current success as a businessman and cultural icon. And whatever the 41-year-old hasn’t divulged yet, he may well have been advised by a lawyer to keep to himself. Instead of autobiography, Decoded provides something much more valuable, a thoughtful analysis of his own lyrics and the history of his chosen art form. Jay-Z helps us understand that he and hip-hop are roughly the same age, and that their stories are almost interchangeable: When young Shawn Carter first fell in love with the sound of rhymes over beats in Brooklyn in 1978, he was discovering the new music just as the new music was discovering itself.
Random House has just released an iPad application of Decoded, adding about thirty minutes of multi-media content, including the video above. You might also want to check out Jay-Z’s appearance on Charlie Rose (on Youtube in 5 parts) and his recent interview on Fresh Air.
It’s hard to care. I understand the mission of this website, but frankly, I think Jay-z and his ilk have done nothing to earn the respectability they have except that they are quite wealthy, having profited mightily from misogyny and the glorification of crime and drugs.
There’s little to admire in that. And nothing notably “cultural” in my opinion.